Italy watches Venezuela slip away

Classic-opening loss riddled with missed opportunity

Second baseman Davide Dallospedale tags out Venezuela's Jose Lopez on Saturday. (Chris Young/AP)

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TORONTO -- When the members of Team Italy reflect on their 7-0 loss to Venezuela in the opener of the World Baseball Classic at Rogers Centre on Saturday, they'll likely continue to ask themselves one question, over and over.

What if?

What if they had just cashed in on a couple of the myriad offensive opportunities that they created for themselves in the first five innings?

What if starter Mark DiFelice could have pitched deeper into the game?

The answer, in all likelihood, is that they might have pulled off the second-biggest upset of the tournament thus far, just hours after the Netherlands shocked the Dominican Republic.

The Italians had no problem putting runners on base against Team Venezuela starter Carlos Silva. Getting those runners home, however, proved to be a more formidable task. Italy left two runners on base in four for the first five innings.

After the Italians stranded a pair in the first inning, right fielder Michael Costanzo led off the second with a double, but he was tagged out trying to advanced to third on a Vincent Rottino grounder back to the mound a batter later. This proved costly when Mario Chiarini followed with a double to the left-field wall and Rottino was unable to score from first. Nick Punto grounded out to end the threat.

"It was disappointing," left fielder Frank Catalanotto said. "After those first four innings, we definitely got their attention, and we couldn't get that big hit with runners in scoring position.

"That was really the story of the game. We left runners on base, and when you got a team like that, and you got them kind of on the ropes ... you got to bury them, and you got to knock them down. And we weren't able to do that."

DiFelice, meanwhile, was brilliant, blanking the powerful Venezuelan lineup on three hits over four innings. The Brewers right-hander pounded the zone, throwing 33 of his 45 pitches for strikes.

Unfortunately for the Italians, their relievers weren't able to follow DiFelice's lead.

Venezuela DH Carlos Guillen led off the fifth by depositing Jason Grilli's second offering of the night over the fence in left-center field to initiate the scoring. The Venezuelans tacked on two more runs against the Rockies right-hander, who lasted just one-third of an inning.

A's southpaw Lenny DiNardo also struggled, allowing a run on two hits and a walk while not retiring any of the three batters he faced in the Venezuelan's four-run rally in the fifth.

Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri was asked after the game if perhaps he had pulled DiFelice too early.

"Well, being a Monday-morning quarterback, it's too easy," Mazzieri said. "And I think we like our chances with Jason and Lenny going in right after Mark. We didn't want to push Mark too much farther because, at this point and time in the season, I think it wasn't fair to him to stretch him out a lot longer.

"We kind of asked him to give us four quality innings, and that's what he did. We really appreciate his effort, and ... we liked our chances with Jason going in. It just didn't work out."

In a losing effort, the right fielder Chiarini made one of the finest defensive plays in the brief history of the Classic, ranging far to his right before diving to rob Bobby Abreu of extra bases in the first inning.

"I think we definitely showed some heart out there," Catalanotto said. "And we showed that Italians can play baseball. We weren't embarrassed out there.

"We were facing a pretty good lineup. I mean, one through nine, they got a lot of superstars there. It was just disappointing not to get those runs across when we had the chance.

Team Italy will next face the home-favorite Canadians on Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET. The loser of that game will be eliminated from the tournament, while the winner will play again on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET.

Ed Eagle is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.